“A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the dean of civil rights leaders, had initially called for a march in 1941. He postponed that march because Franklin Roosevelt gave him partially what he wanted in an Executive Order. Having called off that march, Randolph never stopped dreaming and knowing that he had to have one. Randolph’s contribution to the civil rights movement was a belief in mass action. Bayard [Rustin] added an organizer’s ability, a concept of the strategy of mass action and also of nonviolence. He had a mind that went to every aspect of organization. No aspect of organizing was too small and nothing was too large. He would worry about the kinds of sandwiches that would be there, the nature of the sound system, how one dealt with the President of the United States.”
In the weeks before the March on Washington, celebrities and artists came together at fundraisers across the country to help raise cash. One event took place in Birmingham, Ala., a city that had been the scene of violent clashes between local police and young protesters in May. The Salute to Freedom concert was held at Miles College and featured appearances by Martin Luther King Jr., Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Johnny Mathis, James Baldwin and other stars of politics and pop culture. Proceeds from the show helped cover transportation costs for Alabamans planning to go to Washington.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
There is not anything
than the marching feet of a
In August 1963, a little-known filmmaker named Haskell Wexler traveled by bus from San Francisco to the March on Washington. His documentary of the journey, 1965's The Bus, features footage from the trip and the march. Here, TIME presents an exclusive short edit of the film. In the years since he made The Bus, Wexler has won two Oscars for cinematography (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Bound for Glory) and has shot dozens of other movies, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“Some people pooh-poohed the idea. They didn’t think it was going to work. They thought there was going to be a lot of violence, and so our committee met every week and we said, O.K., what do we need to move this really large group of people from all over, to bring them in? We needed public relations. We needed to have a medical corps of nurses and doctors on hand. We needed to have Porta-Pottys, arrange transportation. Once we had charter buses, regular buses coming in—what’s going to happen to those? Where are people going to park?”
To mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, TIME presents a special commemorative issue—featuring Jon Meacham on King as a Founding Father of the 21st century; Richard Norton Smith on how King's words changed the nature of presidential persuasion; Michele Norris on the state of the dream today; plus Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, Shonda Rhimes, Marco Rubio, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and more on what "I have a dream" means to them. Join TIME.com to read the full issue
We were told by King,
Wherever you are, get involved
in a march
Because that’s the way we are going to
change the culture
of this country.
To help defray the costs of the march, artist Louis Lo Monaco created a souvenir portfolio of collages. Largely comprised of roughly cropped photographs from LIFE—including images of the violent suppression of nonviolent protesters in Birmingham, Ala.—Lo Monaco's booklets sold for $1 each.
“We were there a week ahead of time, so they put us to work. Our job was to put together those signs. All of those signs that you see in the film clip—it was our job to staple them and put them together, then take them over to the parade grounds and unload them. I would imagine I probably touched every last one of those signs in some fashion or form. We probably put together, I don’t know, 10,000 or more before we got to the parade ground. And of course, that morning people started coming in and those signs were gone in a few minutes, and we had to get to work again putting more signs together.”